Information for parents regarding co-location of St Thomas' CofE Primary and Scoill Vallajeelt
It is proposed that St Thomas' CofE Primary School (St Thomas') and Scoill Vallajeelt (Vallajeelt) will co-locate on the Vallajeelt site in Meadow Crescent, Douglas, from the start of the 2018/19 academic year.
The current St Thomas' CofE Primary building would close at the end of the 2017/18 academic year in July 2018 and the school would open in its new location in September 2018.
The proposal resulted from discussions with the Diocese of Sodor and Man, the two headteachers and two boards of governors, all of whom support it.
The Department of Education and Children (DEC) hopes the below information about the co-location will help you to understand why it is doing this.
St Thomas’ School
The Department is committed to improving the environment in which St Thomas' pupils are educated.
Housed in a Victorian building that opened in 1875, with a 1930s extension, St Thomas' is in a built-up area of Douglas town centre, Finch Road.
It has only two permanent classrooms, on two floors, making flexible and modern learning challenging. Intake has exceeded capacity, meaning pupils learn in mobile classrooms. Access to, and movement around, the school is limited for disabled pupils, staff and visitors.
Its only hall is small, so activities are limited. Its main playground is on top of a shop. It has no green space and no suitable facilities for PE, meaning pupils must travel to the National Sports Centre. There is no facility to cook school meals for pupils.
While the building itself no longer meets education standards, its traditions and history are valued, would be preserved following the move and would form an ongoing part of children's learning.
Refurbishment of St Thomas’
As it is surrounded on all sides, redevelopment or expansion would be problematical and costly and would take considerable time, impacting on learning, as there is nowhere within the small building to decant pupils to. While it continues to invest heavily in young people's learning, the Department has a responsibility to spend taxpayers' money to best effect and to maximise use of its existing estate.
In contrast to St Thomas’, Vallajeelt is a large, open-plan school with a sports hall, dining room and assembly hall and large outdoor spaces, including playing fields.
Vallajeelt has 16 classrooms, with one currently used as a library. Its current roll is divided into 8 classes. With St Thomas’ allocated four classes, based on current pupil numbers, there would still be unoccupied classrooms that both schools can utilise for valuable extra space and facilities.
St Thomas’ pupils would be taught in a modern, spacious and well-equipped school that offers many advantages over their existing building.
Vallajeelt opened in Meadow Crescent, Douglas, in 1992, accommodating 142 pupils. As pupil numbers grew, a large extension was added in 2005.
However, its roll has dropped significantly over the last decade as fewer young families moved to the catchment area.
The school has a permanent capacity for 350 pupils, with 200 registered this academic year, meaning it will easily accommodate the 61 St Thomas’ pupils (current roll).
Changing demographics are monitored throughout the Island and amendments to catchments areas/admission policies are made accordingly. This will help us to ensure the rolls of the schools, combined, won’t eventually exceed the capacity of the Vallajeelt building.
Co-location means that schools share a building and site but retain their separate identities, names, headteachers, staff, governors and uniforms. The schools' distinct policies, ways of delivering learning and procedures would continue upon co-location, allowing parents to continue to choose a Church of England-based education for their children at St Thomas'.
Previous co-location in the Isle of Man
Prior to opening in its current location, Bunscoill Ghaelgagh, the Manx primary school, shared sites with first Ballacottier Primary and later St John's Primary. There were few complaints from parents, children got on well and it added value for the communities of both schools. Such co-locations are common in the UK.
Advantages of co-location
The education of pupils in both communities will allow them to come together, when it would be beneficial, and to respect each other's differences.
This contributes to the development of tolerant, respectful and positive attitudes. Wider friendships result from pupils interacting within the schools.
Co-location to a better building may make St Thomas' a more viable option for parents.
The schools would benefit from working together on projects when it would prove helpful – common practice in the UK.
They would share some resources and facilities and there is potential for them to join together for activities such as trips out, hosting visiting speakers and workshops, etc.
In terms of professional development, headteachers and staff may benefit from being in a larger group.
Retaining individual names and identities
St Thomas', the Island's only Church of England school, accommodates pupils from all over the Island whose parents wish them to have a Church of England-based education.
Vallajeelt, meanwhile, chiefly welcomes pupils from within its catchment area, so a merger would pose practical problems.
Most importantly, though, the Department believes that, in line with the 2001 Education Act, affording an opportunity for parents to choose a faith-based school is important in a tolerant community.
Co-location to other schools
Allocating space on the Henry Bloom Noble Primary School site in Westmoreland Road to St Thomas’ was suggested by the DEC but not progressed. Although classes at Henry Bloom Noble are not all at full capacity, there would no longer be the opportunity to accommodate St Thomas’ as a co-located school.
Scoill Yn Jubilee is already at capacity.
St Mary’s RC Primary School in St Mary’s Road is already restricted in size and facilities, with major improvements planned.
The redundant former Ballacloan Infants’ School building in Demesne Road – most recently part of the old, split-site Henry Bloom Noble Primary along with the Fairfield Junior School building – was considered. However, for reasons outlined when permission was granted for the new Henry Bloom Noble School, it is unsuitable to house pupils and it would be uneconomic to develop it sufficiently.
Timing and practicalities
While there would, inevitably, be movement of equipment and resources between the schools in late summer 2018, the disruption would be kept to a minimum.
During recent moves, such as that of Henry Bloom Noble Primary from separate buildings into a single building, the transition was as seamless as it could possibly be and pupils came in on the first day of the academic year to a school that was fully set up and operating.
It is possible that St Thomas’ would need to close for the summer holidays 2018 a day earlier, as was the case of Henry Bloom Noble, to facilitate the move, but parents would be given plenty of notice.
Traffic and transport
Vallajeelt was built to educate considerably more pupils that it will house after co-location in September 2018, so it is well within its designed attendance levels. However, the DEC will analyse the effect the co-location will have on traffic and liaise accordingly with DoI. A traffic survey is being conducted.
It is the responsibility of parents to get children to and from school, wherever they are educated. However, the DEC has agreed to provide minibus transportation to and from Scoill Vallajeelt for St Thomas' pupils for the first year of the co-location.
While the Government would make savings in not maintaining, heating and lighting an elderly and inefficient building, these savings would be small and this isn't a factor in the proposal.
There are no plans to reduce staffing at either school.
St Thomas’ Church
St Thomas' admits pupils from all over the Island. There would be discussions with the Church and St Thomas' governors about it being linked more closely with the wider Diocese and not soley its adjacent church.
Both schools' boards of governors are supportive of the co-location, and have formally approved the idea of co-location.
The Department will publish its proposal in the Examiner and Courier in the week beginning 13 November 2017 to give parents and the wider public the opportunity to comment on it, as required by the Education Act 2001.
The proposal will then be laid before Tynwald.
Keeping you informed
Initially, parents were invited to meetings held at each school in June 2017.
At the end of the 2016/17 academic year, parents of St Thomas' pupils were afforded the opportunity to tour Vallajeelt. This opportunity will be repeated.
St Thomas' pupils will also have plenty of opportunity to look around their new school prior to co-location.
It is also planned to hold an open evening at Vallajeelt for residents of the area.
The DEC has also engaged direct with parents who have raised queries and concerns.
The public notice will now seek the views of the public on the proposal.
The DEC will continue to update parents, pupils and the public on the co-location throughout the 2017/18 academic year.
Contacts for further information
Telephone: +44 1624 685808